Freedom of expression. This right is going to play a key role in the defense of the former president of the United States Donald Trump in the case of the big hoax in the 2020 elections. His lawyers have made it clear that their strategy involves arguing that when the ex-president denounced a non-existent fraud in those elections he truly believed it and made use of his right to express his opinion. And they allege that when he asked his collaborators and the electoral officials to alter the results, he did not pressure them, but rather expressed a mere “aspiration.”
John Lauro, one of Trump’s lawyers and his reference defender in the electoral hoax case, was a very busy man this Sunday: he appeared to present his client’s point of view on talk shows on all the national television networks. And in all of them he left clues to his strategy: appealing to the First Amendment of the Constitution, which makes the right to express oneself sacrosanct.
“Every single thing that President Trump has been indicted for has to do with aspirational petitions: asking state legislatures, asking governors, asking state election officials to do the right thing. In fact, even petitions to Vice President (Mike) Pence were protected by freedom of expression, ”Lauro said in his speech on the conservative Fox News network.
The then US president asked Brad Raffenberger, the Georgia secretary of state, to “find” 11,780 votes, one more than the number by which his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, had defeated him there. He also called on Pence to refuse to certify the official result of the elections at the ceremony in the US Congress on January 6, 2021. The vice president did not accept. That day, a horde of Trump supporters — convinced there had been voter fraud after the president had claimed so for months — stormed the Capitol chanting, among other things, “Hang Pence!”
For these types of actions, special prosecutor Jack Smith accuses him of four counts of conspiracy to violate civil rights, conspiracy to defraud the US Government, obstruction of legal proceedings and witness tampering.
Trump “had the right to make those requests even to state governments, but that does not imply obstruction of the federal government,” Lauro said in another intervention this Sunday, on NBC. And on CNN he has added that “asking is an aspiration, not action.” On CBS he has stressed that the former tenant of the White House “was convinced to the core that there were discrepancies in the electoral results.”
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In an appearance also on CNN, and asked about the lawyer’s version according to which Trump simply expressed a wish, Pence has stopped that “that is not what happened.” The vice president, whose testimony is essential in the statement of charges presented by the Prosecutor’s Office, has recounted that on Christmas Day 2020 his former electoral tandem partner asked him to annul the electoral results. A week later, on January 1, 2021, a similar conversation took place. As the former governor of Indiana has stated on several occasions, Trump came to demand that he choose between himself and the Constitution, and Pence opted for the law.
Since Smith accused Trump in this case, the most complicated for the former president and which concerns the most basic foundations of American democracy, the former president’s defense has hinted that, in addition to alleging the First Amendment, he will also try to delay in his three pending trials ―the former president is charged in New York with accounting falsification and in Miami for illegal possession of classified material― as much as possible until after the elections, with the hope that the now Republican presidential candidate wins the 2024 presidential elections.
Motion to change judge and court
Trump was already targeting one of these possible motions. On his social network, Truth, he promised to seek a change in the judge in charge of the case and the place where what is promised as a historic trial is held. The case is assigned to federal court in Washington, where the former president pleaded “not guilty” on Friday, and to Judge Tanya Chutkan.
“There is no way that I can receive a fair trial with the assigned judge,” said the magnate, who is demanding Chutkan’s recusal. The magistrate has imposed some of the harshest penalties in cases against the participants in the riot on Capitol Hill and has previously clashed with the former president in another case, when Trump tried to veto access to his papers by the congressional commission investigating the assault. Then, the judge denied the appeal. In her opinion, he wrote, among other things, that “presidents are not kings.”
This Saturday, Chutkan gave Trump’s defense until Monday afternoon to respond to the Prosecutor’s request to impose summary secrecy, after the former president had published another disturbing message: “If you go against me, I will go against you”.
The former president also considers that the US capital —where he lived during his term and which he denigrates as “dirty” and “decrepit” whenever he can— is hostile terrain for him: he only achieved 5% of the votes in this territory in 2020. On Thursday, the protesters demanding prison for him in court far outnumbered those protesting for the Republican.
After his imputation, Trump had already commented that he would request the transfer of the case to West Virginia, a state in the vicinity of Washington with a very conservative tradition and where in 2020 he defeated Biden with two-thirds of the votes.
This time he did not indicate where he would like to move the process, but he did reiterate that he will take steps so that it is not held in Washington. “For many reasons, but one is that I want the federal government to take over this dirty (city), a nest of crime that is a shame to our nation, where murders have broken all records and tourists have fled.” .
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